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Temple grounds rain clouds

Letter to Chiang Mai (how to discover the city)

by Emiel Van Den Boomen

Monks looking balcony

Dear Chiang Mai,

I think we started off on the wrong foot. On the first two days we visited your crowded night bazar and headed out on a tour to one of your many silk factories, jewelry shops and an umbrella making ‘factory’. But this is not what Chiang Mai is really about and not what we were looking for. After these first days we fell into some kind of disappointment trap.

Luckily we got out of that trap after those first days and had a wonderful time! We discovered your great temple grounds with delicious food stalls, visited your Sunday market and found some lovely art galleries and restaurants. We also rode around town on rental bikes, had a powerful Thai massage next to a temple, spotted lots of monks and had a chat with them. We enjoyed a full day with a reliable elephant camp, feeding and washing the elephants.

Fun with elephants

Slow travel in Chiang Mai

But dear Chiang Mai, why do you think the only interesting activities for us foreigners are visiting the Tiger Kingdom (to play with tigers, right…), the Long-Neck tribe village, a Monkey School, Snake Farm, or yet another handicraft shop? Really, everybody in your city is offering these same kinds of tours. And I guess you know that some of these are terrible as they are only set up for tourists and authenticity is hard to find. You just look like one big attraction! Is that what you want?

You know Chiang Mai, after the first two days when we felt somewhat disappointed we already talked about leaving you again. But we didn’t. Our original aim was to travel slowly to really learn about a city and local life. So we didn’t pack our bags to travel further up north to your little brothers Pai or Chiang Rai. We spent 1,5 week with you and slowly discovered the hidden places that make you special. I have to be honest, you are certainly not the most sparkling or scenic city, but once we got to recognize some of your places and people, you grew upon us.

Statue ugly building

“I have been standing here on this temple ground for like 800 years, but this is the most ugliest view I have ever had!”

Your old town is lovely and different around every corner. I would advise others to not visit the night bazar but to head out into the old town where original markets (especially the Warorot market in China Town) and great food stalls are all around. I will also tell them to not let guides convince them to book tours immediately, but discover the city first and decide for themselves what they really would love to do.

Temple grounds rain clouds

We loved our slow time with you. No stress and no worries. The only worry we had was whether our clothes drying on the balcony would be soaked after another monsoon rain…

Now I will show you some of our pictures (but I guess you already know how you look!).

Bye bye Chiang Mai.

Doi Suthep Large

White temple thailand

Monk in 7-Eleven
ALSO READ: 7-Eleven in Thailand: 8 reasons to love it.

Kiss from elephant

“Big kiss from an elephant: sensation!”

Washing elephant

On streets of Chiang Mai

Monk writing book

Monk wax statues

“Don’t worry, they are not real. These are enlightened monks made from fibre…scary though!”

Travel Thailand

Market Thailand

Doi Suthep devotion

Devotion at the beautiful Doi Suthep temple

Working out monks

“Who says monks don’t work out??”

Donald Duck temple

“Donald?? Wat the Duck!? [Wat means Temple in Thai]

Thailand statue sun

Next stop: Koh Chang island.

ALSO READ: Sukhothai – on a bike

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Ayngelina August 31, 2012 - 17:42

I only spent a few days in Chiang Mai so I never got beyond the touristy stuff but so many people stay there for so long and now I’m starting to see why.

Michi August 25, 2012 - 13:19

GORGEOUS photos, Emiel! You must be having such a wonderful time in Thailand with your family! Now I can use your blog as a reference for my future trip to SE Asia. 🙂

Emiel van den Boomen August 28, 2012 - 14:55

Well Michelle, that would be an honour! Maybe I should start my own travel agency 🙂

andelka merunka August 23, 2012 - 22:16

It is great that you share with us all your travel experience with so many details and pictures. Thank you for that!

Emiel van den Boomen August 24, 2012 - 04:55

Thanks Andelka, great to hear from you!

Emiel van den Boomen August 22, 2012 - 17:50

We love Bangkok too Mary. Now making plans to go back two days earlier just to experience it a bit more 🙂

michele August 21, 2012 - 13:21

Hello, What elephant camp did you use?

Emiel van den Boomen August 21, 2012 - 16:17

We went for a day with Yogi Mahout, great experience!

Joshua Cook August 21, 2012 - 12:01

Spot on! We loved Chiang Mai, but managed to stay off the radar pretty much from the start. We dodged a lot of the canned tours and spent a lot of time with a book outside a little cafe soaking everything in… And came back with good memories. The only tour we did take was to the same elephant camp you visited! Good choice.

Emiel van den Boomen August 22, 2012 - 17:48

Thanks Joshua, I think that’s indeed the best way to experience a place.

George on the Go August 21, 2012 - 10:57

Absolutely stunning I always think you should give a place a chance. You can’t find out anything in 2 days

Emiel van den Boomen August 22, 2012 - 17:49

True George. That’s also why we didn’t plan to visit too many places in the weeks we are now traveling. Just take it slow…thanks!

Tracey - Life Changing Year August 21, 2012 - 02:16

Looks like those monks work out naked!!!

Emiel van den Boomen August 22, 2012 - 17:46

I didn’t check that Tracey!


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